Sunday, June 08, 2014

Run Reader: Red Sonja #1-9

From Red Sonja #6, written by Gail Simone with art from Walter Geovani.
"This is outrageous... what if you're not my type?"
"I'm Red Sonja. I'm everybody's type."~Red Sonja Issue #8

Just as binge watching television shows has become more common (and actually more enjoyable with many series) I have recently found myself patiently collecting runs of comic books for months at a time before delving deeply into read the connecting stories. Still a collecting slave to single issues, trades won't do, so patience is necessary. One such book that I have quietly placed away is Dynamite Publishing's Red Sonja written by Gail Simone with art from Walter Geovani. After monthly sorting through stunning covers by Jenny Frison, I could wait no longer.

Cover by Jenny Frison.
My earliest recollections of Red Sonja, like most early-Eighties F.O.O.M.-ers, was the scantily clad, silver coin bikini-ed, "She-Devil With A Sword" who somehow found her way into the Topps Marvel Superhero sticker set. A truly dynamic character design, her primary purpose seemed to be as a female counterpart (girlfriend?) for Conan the Barbarian. The piggy back production of a Red Sonja movie (with a cameo by Conan-star Arnold Schwarzenegger) did little to change my perception. I was not, at the time, a sword-and-sorcery fan, despite playing Dungeons and Dragons and loving Beastmaster. In my younger more limited collecting view, comic books were for capes not swords.

Flash forward thirty years, and the overwhelming majority of the books that comprise my current pull list consists of horror, sci-fi and titles featuring a variety of Robert E. Howard characters, including, most recently, Red Sonja. While familiar with Gail Simone's comic book work for DC, most of my practical reading of her writing consists almost solely of following (and enjoying) @GailSimone tweets. As written by Simone, Red Sonja is a conflicted heroine who carries the burden of bearing a sense of responsibility for those who need her. In each of the series arcs thus far, Sonja finds herself questing for her own, in addition to her "sister's," redemption, and later for the lives of hundred of slaves, none of whom she has met. The package through which these stories are told, the characterization and storytelling both written and depicted, is the real selling point here--though for what discriminating comic book fan is it not?

Sonja comes face-to-face with her
sister in issue #2.
The artwork by Walter Geovani and Adraino Lucas is top notch. Sonja is depicted visually as charismatic, strong and stoic while avoiding the caricature of an overtly masculine (or overdeveloped) female. The coloring palette is suitably earthy, allowing for an added subtext to Sonja's differentiating feature, her flowing red hair. Throughout the run, the reader is aware of Red Sonja's infamy (even without having previous experience with the character) in the world created therein, as her unique appearance is itself a calling card of "the Devil," a nickname she is often referred to by in whispers.

Simone's writing is excellent. Not being a previous reader of anything Sonja, I don't have much perspective on whether this has always been the case, but unlike some other books with female primary protagonists (cough--Witchblade--cough), Red Sonja is presented as powerful, sexy and intelligent, rather than oversexed and unaware (or over-aware) of the unique nature of the impact of their empowerment in a patriarchal world. The backstory provided in the first arc adds a real sense of the social challenges faced by a young Sonja who has to learn to be cunning and violent as a means of survival.

At it's heart, Red Sonja is a Sword and Sorcery property. though the emphasis is clearly on "sword." It is a violent world that Sonja inhabits, and her calculated responses to conflicts are also necessarily violent. While some minor characters, such as "fish people," that populate the world Simone has developed have an air of  fantasy about them, it is much more Game-of-Thronesy than, say, Dungeon and Dragons. The sorcery and magic is alluded to more than overtly depicted. Much of what may have been handled in previous comic book incarnations as magic-based is given scientific or potentially real world sources. Disease is explained as the creation of misguided, early scientists, and great feasts, the product of one who has devoted his life to Epicurean arts. It is an interesting approach that results in a far more grounded Red Sonja.

As you might expect by this point, Dynamite Publishing's current Red Sonja series by Simone and Geovani is my type, and I would encourage you to invite her into your reading list, too. For readers uninterested in culling the longboxes at their local comic shop, trades will soon be available.

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